The Spanish Embassy, London
A Christmas wreath cheerfully adorns the door to the Spanish Ambassador’s elegant residence. This is Belgravia, London. Here on the night of the 4th December, the advent of Christmas meets the 30th Anniversary celebration of the Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino (The Grand Order of the Gentlemen of Wine).
The Order was founded in 1984 to honour individuals in the UK Trade who have made exceptional contribution towards promoting the quality wines of Spain. Membership was extended in 1989 to include those from Spain who have shown similar dedication on a worldwide basis. Despite the title Caballeros – meaning gentlemen in Spanish – six of the current 58 members are women.
As night falls, specks of red cloak began to appear round the south corner of Belgrave Square, streaming towards the ambassador’s door. The crimson richness is more the vibrant against the darkness of winter. These enrobed Caballeros represented some of the most distinguished producers, traders, restaurateurs, educators and promoters of fine Spanish wines. Other guests from the world of diplomacy, politics, finance, academia, among others, joined his Excellency, Ambassador Federico Trillo-Figueroa Martínez-Conde, for a grand tasting of individually selected wines from some of Spain’s finest bodegas.
The embassy’s great drawing room and dining room made two magnificent tasting areas. The “Special Tasting” in the drawing room consisted of 40 selected wines that showcased a wide repertoire of Spain’s varietals, blends and styles. From cava, whites, reds to sherry; from vintages 1981 right up to 2013 – to taste such offerings is to appreciate the 30-year efforts of the Caballeros, who have helped increasing demand for Spanish wines from the cheap bulk trade to single estate bottled fine wines of remarkable quality, character and value. The rise and rise of the popularity of Spanish wines in the UK, spearheaded but no longer limited to Riojas, owes much to the vision and passion of the Caballeros, through promotion and education – such as their collaboration with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust – have reshaped people’s perception, understanding and appreciation of Spanish wines. No wonder the Caballeros’ Oxbridge don/Harry Potter-style gowns in flamboyant red exudes so much pride. In the words of Mr Jeremy Watson, Director of Wines from Spain:
“We had embarked on a crusade to bring real Spain to the British. No longer would it be an image of cheap sun, cheap sand, cheap sea and cheap everything; now it was to be fine wines, in a glorious and historic environment with the delightful cooking and, by no means least, the Caballeros to carry the message. Sometimes I wonder if things have almost gone too far when observing the British obsession for putting Chorizo with almost everything!”
Speaking of chorizo – no ordinary chorizo – the guests were treated to canapés created by the Michelin-starred Spanish chef Nacho Manzano of the Ibérica restaurant group. Beautiful and dainty bites floated around the rooms, of watermelon cubes infused with wild berries tea, foie gras cherries, herring roe and lime, steak tartar followed by gin & tonic turrón with chilled Gin Mare and Galician cheesecake with dried strawberries.
Yet there was more. The adjacent dining room hosted long banquet tables lined up with wine bottles – over a hundred Spanish wines from various producers, regions and distributors showcase their finest for the more unswerving tasters. Over glasses of wine, old and new acquaintances greeted and connected; season’s greetings mixed with cheers for the vino – it was truly a privilege to be a part of this remarkable celebration.
My personal highlights among the 40 “Special Tasting” wines include:
Freixenet, Casa Sala Brut Nature Gran Reserva, D.O. Cava, 2006
(sparkling white; Xarello and Parellada; alc. 12.5%)
Every aspect of this wine’s production is managed by hand in the age-old fashion and then bottle aged for seven years. The intense labour of love comes through expressively in the freshness and delicacy of this wine, with notes of apple blossom.
Bodegas Miguel Torres, Torres Gran Muralles, D.O. Conca de Barberá, 2006
(red; Garnacha, Monastrell, Garro, samso and Cariñena; alc. 14.75%)
Championing an eclectic mix of indigenous varietals, the result is an elegant and finely knitted wine of great balance, depth and length.
Bodegas Cvne, Cvne Imperial Gran Reserva, D.O. Ca. Rioja, 2001
(red; 85% Tempranillo,10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo; alc. 13.8%)
A low yielding, high altitude Rioja Alta wine. Jammy dark berries, cedar and the right amount of smoky oak that integrate, develop and linger in the mouth.
Bodegas Marqués de Céceres, Marqués de Céceres Gran Reserva, D.O. Ca. Rioja, 1998
(red, 85% Tempranillo,15% Garnacha and Greciano, alc. 13%)
Vines up to 85 years old offer complexity and structure yet plenty of freshness. Intriguing notes of roasted chestnut on the nose carried through on the palate. Really long finish.
Marqués Murrieta, Castillo Ygay, D.O. Ca. Rioja, 1988
(red; 74% Tempranillo, 12% Mazuelo, 10% Garnacha and 4% Graciano; alc. 13%)
Released after 32 months of aging in American oak barriques followed by 36 months in bottle, then lying for a further 20 years till this special occasion, there is still plenty of life and freshness in this gracefully aged wine. It is classic and precise, with a hint of mineral top note.
Lustau/Caballero Group, Oloroso Añada 1997, D.O. Jerez-Xérès – Sherry
(sweet fortified; Palomino; alc. 19%)
Vintage sherry is very rare and this is one that has been incompletely fermented to retain higher sugar level and aged for 13 years. Smooth with the weight of heavy silk, intense yet effortlessly integrated aromas of figs, dates, honey, mocha… Hedonistic but not overly sweet. It is like the ultimate indulgence that you could just about get away with a clear conscience.
© Janet Z. Wang